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Preview: Ulster v Connacht

04th October 2012 10:28

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SKY_MOBILE Stephen Ferris Ulster

Starter: Stephen Ferris

Ulster have announced an almost full-strength team for their PRO12 clash with Connacht at Ravenhill, with Rory Best and Stephen Ferris both starting.

Coach Mark Anscombe has made five changes to the starting team for what promises to be an emotional occasion as it will mark Ulster's first home game since the passing of Nevin Spence.

Ireland hooker Best has returned to fitness and will play for his province for the first time since the Heineken Cup final in May. Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (captain), Ferris and Paddy Wallace are all called into the starting XV.

Fitzpatrick and Best are joined in the front-row by Tom Court, with Muller back to partner Dan Tuohy at lock. Ferris will play alongside Chris Henry and Nick Williams in an impressive looking back-row.

Centre Michael Allen has been ruled out after suffering an ankle injury in the process of scoring against Cardiff at the weekend. Darren Cave will move to outside centre in his place, allowing Paddy Wallace to slot in at inside centre. Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson will continue their half-back partnership, while the back-three of Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne is also unchanged.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has made four changes to his starting XV.

Up front, Denis Buckley makes way for Brett Wilkinson as loosehead prop while Ronan Loughney, who last week was called up to the Irish training squad, returns at tighthead.

Elsewhere in the pack, Dave Gannon replaces Eoin McKeon as blindside flanker. Gannon is joined in the back-row by former Ulster flanker Willie Faloon, who will captain Connacht.

There are no changes to the backs with Dan Parks making his second appearance for the province as fly-half. Try scorers from last week Tiernan O'Halloran and Fetu'u Vainikolo start again on the wing while the centre partnership is Eoin Griffin and Dave McSharry.

Form: Ulster top the RaboDirect PRO12 table and still have a game in hand over all their rivals, having won four from four so far to make their best ever start to a campaign. The Ulstermen's only defeat at Ravenhill since last October was to Leinster on 20 April. Connacht achieved their biggest ever victory over Leinster on Friday and are now seeking a third successive victory over their fellow Irish provinces for the first time since 1956. Connacht's only win in this competition over a rival province in their own backyard came against Leinster at Donnybrook on 13 September 2002. Connacht are going for back to back victories over Ulster for the first time since 1997-98, but have not won at Ravenhill since 16 November 1960.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johan Muller (c), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 John Afoa, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Craig Gilroy.

Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Willie Faloon (capt), 6 Dave Gannon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Nathan White, 19 John Muldoon, 20 Johnny O'Connor, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Mata Fifita.

Date: Friday, October 5
Kick-off: 19:05 BST
Venue: Ravenhill
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eanna O'Dowd (Ireland), Brian Macneice (Ireland)
Television match official: Ken Beggs (Ireland)

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